ZECKY MILLER, LISA MASCARA and E. EDUARDO CASTILLA (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told cheering U.S. lawmakers during a high-profile military visit to the nation’s capital on Wednesday that his country is still standing, thanking Americans for helping fund the war with money that is “not from ‘are a charity’ but an ‘investment’ in global security and democracy.
The stormy stop in Washington — his first known trip outside the country since Russia invaded in February — was aimed at boosting support for his country in the United States and around the world at a time when there are concerns that allies are tired of the expensive war. and its disruption of global food and energy supplies.
Zelensky called the tens of billions of dollars in US military and economic aid provided over the past year vital to Ukraine’s efforts to fend off Russia and called for even more aid in the future.
“Your money is not charity,” he tried to reassure those in the room and those watching at home. “This is an investment in global security and democracy that we treat in the most responsible way.”
Just before his arrival, the US announced a new $1.8 billion military aid package, including for the first time Patriot surface-to-air missiles. And Congress planned to vote this week on a new spending package that includes about $45 billion in additional emergency aid to Ukraine.
The speech to Congress came after President Joe Biden welcomed Zelensky to the Oval Office for strategy consultations, saying the US and Ukraine would maintain their “joint defense” as Russia waged a “brutal attack on Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation “. Biden promised to help achieve a “just peace”.
Zelensky told Biden that he wanted to visit him earlier, and now his visit shows that “the situation is under control, thanks to your support.”
The highly emotional trip came after 10 months of brutal war that resulted in tens of thousands of casualties on both sides and devastation for the Ukrainian civilian population.
Zelensky went to Washington aboard a US Air Force plane. The visit has long been sought by both sides, but the right conditions have only materialized in the last 10 days, US officials said, following high-level discussions about the security of both Zelenskiy and his men while he is outside Ukraine. Zelensky spent less than 10 hours in Washington before heading back to Ukraine.
In his speech to lawmakers, Zelensky recalled the U.S. victory at the Battle of the Bulge, a turning point against Nazi Germany in World War II, and the Revolutionary War at the Battle of Saratoga, an American victory that helped attract French aid for U.S. independence. The Ukrainian leader predicted that the next year will be a “turning point” in the conflict, “when Ukrainian courage and American determination must guarantee the future of our common freedom — the freedom of people who defend their values.”
Zelensky received a standing ovation from members of Congress and presented lawmakers with a Ukrainian flag autographed by front-line soldiers in Bakhmut, in Ukraine’s disputed Donetsk region. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris hung the flag behind him at the podium. Pelassi, in turn, presented Zelensky with an American flag that flew over the Capitol that day, and Zelensky waved it up and down as he left the chamber.
Declaring in his speech that Ukraine “will never surrender,” Zelensky warned that the stakes in the conflict are greater than just the fate of his nation — that democracy around the world is being tested.
“This battle cannot be ignored hoping that the ocean or something else will provide protection,” he said, speaking in English for what he called a “speech to the Americans.”
Earlier, at a joint press conference with Biden, Zelensky explained how Ukraine will try to end the conflict. He dismissed Biden’s phrase about seeking a “just peace,” saying, “For me as president, a ‘just peace’ means no compromises.” He said that the war will end when the sovereignty, freedom and territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored, and Russia will return to Ukraine all the damage caused by its forces.
“There can be no “just peace” in the war imposed on us,” he added.
For his part, Biden said that Russia “is trying to use winter as a weapon, but the Ukrainian people continue to inspire the world.” During the press conference, he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “does not intend to stop this brutal war.”
The two leaders appeared to share a warm relationship, laughing at each other’s comments and patting each other on the back throughout the visit, although Zelensky made it clear that he would continue to seek increasing support from Biden and other Western leaders.
He said that once the Patriot system is up and running, “we will send another signal to President Biden that we would like to get more Patriots.”
“We’re at war,” Zelensky added with a smile as Biden laughed at the direct request. “I apologize. I am very sorry.”
Biden told Zelensky that “it is important for the American people and for the whole world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine’s struggle and the need to continue to stand together until 2023.”
Zelensky headed to Washington after a daring and dangerous trip on Tuesday to the town of Bakhmut, which he described as the hottest spot on the war’s 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line.
Poland’s private broadcaster TVN24 reported that Zelensky moved to Poland on Wednesday morning on his way to Washington. The station showed footage of Zelensky arriving at the station accompanied by a motorcade of American SUVs. TVN24 reported that the video, partially blurred for security reasons, was filmed in Przemyśl, a Polish border town that has been the destination of many refugees fleeing the war.
Officials have been tight-lipped about Zielenski’s travel plans, citing security concerns, but a U.S. official confirmed that Zielenski had arrived on a U.S. Air Force plane that landed at Joint Base Andrews, near the capital, from the Polish city of Rzeszów.
Biden told Zelensky, who was wearing a combat green sweatshirt and boots, that “it’s an honor to be around you.”
American and Ukrainian officials have made it clear that they do not see a quick resolution to the war and are preparing for the fighting to continue for some time. The latest infusion of U.S. money would be the largest yet — and surpass Biden’s $37 billion request.
Biden reiterated that while the U.S. will arm and train Ukraine, U.S. forces will not be directly involved in the war.
The latest package of US military aid includes not only a Patriot missile battery but also precision-guided munitions for fighter jets, US officials said. It represents an expansion of the types of advanced weapons designed to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses against what has been an increasing barrage of Russian missiles.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the delivery of the advanced Zenis missile system would be seen as a provocative move and that the system and any crews accompanying it would be a legitimate target for Moscow’s military.
“It’s a defense system,” Biden said of sending the missile system. “It’s not an escalation — it’s a defense.”
The visit comes at a crucial time as the White House prepares for more resistance when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives in January and more closely monitor aid to Ukraine. The leader of the Republican Party, Kevin McCarthy from California, said that his party will not write a “blank check” for Ukraine.
Zelensky appeared to be well aware of the political rift in the US over continued spending abroad, and urged lawmakers in the House and Senate to ensure that American leadership remains “bicameral and bipartisan.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer opened the chamber on Wednesday by saying that passing the aid package and confirming the new US ambassador to Russia, Lynn M. Tracy, would send a strong signal that Americans are “unequivocally” on the side of Ukraine. Tracy was later confirmed by a vote of 93-2.
The top Republican in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said that “the most basic reasons for continuing to help Ukraine degrade and defeat the Russian invaders are the cold, hard, practical interests of the United States.” He said that “victory over Russian aggression will help prevent further security crises in Europe.”
The Russian invasion, which began on February 24, has lost momentum. Illegally annexed Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporozhye regions are still fighting fiercely.
As fighting in the country’s east has stalled, Moscow has used missiles and drones to attack Ukraine’s power equipment, hoping to leave people without electricity when the freezing weather arrives.
Castillo reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Farnoosh Amiri, Lalita K. Baldor, Tara Cope, Kevin Freking, Aamer Madhani, Chris Megerian and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of Russia’s war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine